Heart Health & Diabetes: Enhancing Wellness with Grains

Enjoying a heart-healthy diet is a key strategy for optimizing well-being while living with and managing diabetes. Grain foods are foundational staples in building heart-healthy eating patterns and offer a myriad of benefits, particularly for diabetics.

1. Fiber Forward:

Grain foods contain dietary fiber, which plays a crucial role in promoting metabolic health. Research suggests that fiber-filled dietary patterns are associated with improved insulin sensitivity and lower risk of metabolic syndrome. The fiber in grains also helps slow the absorption of sugars, preventing rapid spikes in blood glucose levels, which can help improve blood sugar control and support a healthy weight. While whole grain foods are typically associated with fiber, close to 40% of US dietary fiber intake comes from refined grain foods. A study published in 2022 found that the higher fiber content in grain foods can help decrease blood glucose and delay insulin secretion, indicating the intake of refined grain foods is not associated with increased risk of developing type 2 diabetes.

2. Sustained Energy:

Grain-based foods provide 25-50% of energy in Western diets as they contain complex carbohydrates that are broken down slowly by the body, providing a steady release of energy. This helps in preventing energy crashes and maintaining stable blood sugar levels throughout the day.

3. Nutrient Density:

Grain foods are packed with essential nutrients such as B vitamins, magnesium, and iron, which support healthy metabolic processes. Magnesium, in particular, plays a crucial role in glucose metabolism and insulin control for those with type 2 diabetes. Whole grains also contain antioxidants and phytochemicals that have anti-inflammatory and insulin-sensitizing properties.

4. Gut Health and Microbiome:

Some fibers, including those found in grain foods, act as prebiotics, nourishing beneficial gut bacteria and promoting a healthy microbiome. Consuming whole grains can also increase the production of short-chain fatty acids, which have been linked to improved insulin sensitivity and reduced risk of obesity.

5. Weight Management and Satiety:

Incorporating fiber-containing grain foods into a healthy diet can aid in weight management and promote feelings of fullness. Maintaining a healthy weight is key for metabolic health as visceral adiposity is strongly linked to insulin resistance and metabolic syndrome. Observational cohort studies and meta-analyses of randomized control trials indicate a lack of association between glycemic index of foods and weight loss or prevention of developing obesity, suggesting that a variety of grain foods can be a part of a healthy dietary pattern for weight management.

Eating to promote cardiometabolic health and glucose control includes a variety of foods from each food group, including the grain food group. Whole and refined staple grain foods can be nutrient-dense options that have a role to play in achieving dietary fiber intake recommendations, providing sustained energy, feeding the gut microbiome, and managing weight.

The above information was contributed by Angela Ginn-Meadow, RD, LDN, RN, CDE.